Foodie Boom on the Upper West Side

| 16 Feb 2015 | 11:01

    The restaurant wasteland above 96th Street is suddenly thriving

    The upper reaches of the Upper West Side are getting a culinary makeover.

    Since late summer, nine eateries and bars have opened, or will be opening soon, in the area above 96th Street and below 110th Street, rejuvenating a part of the neighborhood that has long been a foodie wasteland.

    "Years ago you'd get little places trying to open in the area and it would be very hard," said Peter Andsten, of the Columbus Amsterdam Business Improvement District. Now, he says, "the interest has been building, and it's reaching a critical mass. These days, you don't have to be a small restaurant going at it yourself; there are enough small businesses now that it's easier."

    The new places range from sushi shops to pizza joints, from mom-and-pop restaurants to national chains.

    Here's a sampling:

    For the vegetarian:

    Effy's Café and Bistro, 104 West 96th Street

    Effy's, an organic Mediterranean café in Yorkville, will be opening sometime this month. The new location will be entirely vegan, vegetarian and kosher. But don't expect weird raw veggie concoctions: owner Effy Jacoby likes to keep it simple. He says that his grilled cheeses are to die for, as well as a few traditional Israeli dishes, inspired by his heritage.

    "Vegetables make you happier than meat, and I like to make people happy," said Jacoby. "I like this area. My East side location is my brain, and the West side is my soul."

    For the pizza connoisseur:

    Isola on Columbus,  994 Columbus Ave

    Isola on Columbus makes real Italian pizza, and not many places can truly say that, said manager Gaspare Disede, who hails from Sicily, as well as Isola's owner Sebastiano Cappitta. So what's the difference between Italian and American pizza? You won't find pepperoni on their pizzas- only sopressata- an Italian dry salami. They cook the pizza in a real brick oven (the only neighborhood pizzeria to do that, claims Disede.)

    "Sebastiano believes in this neighborhood, and the people are so happy with the pizza," said Disede.

    Isola opened earlier this month. Try their pizza bianca with truffle oil and mushrooms, or their homemade pesto sauce pie. Isola also serves up homemade gnocchi with smoked mozzarella and marinara sauce, among other pastas.

    For a special occasion:

    Domain NYC, 2869 Broadway

    Headed by a two-Michelin-star chef, and armed with farm-to-table fare and organic seafood, neighborhood spot Varelli re-opened in late August as Domain- a modern American wine bar. Kira Allen, the events coordinator at Domain, says that some of the highlights of the restaurant are the raw bar, as well as the smoked angler trout.

    Chef Derrick Styczek, who used to be a chef at Gramercy Tavern, focuses on natural-looking presentation, as well as cooking with sustainable seafood.

    Allen noted that the area is changing, and says that Domain is part of the culinary upswing. "It's the whole downtown experience, uptown," said Allen. "You don't have to go to Soho to have a great dining experience."

    For the Columbia crowd:

    Makana, 161 West 106th Street

    Here's something different for the neighborhood: authentic Hawaiian-Japanese barbeque. Partners Dave Chan and Dave Hom just opened their second location of Makana earlier this month, to satisfy the hunger pangs of their frequent Columbia University patrons. The restaurant's well-known feature is the large, open-flame grill where they cook Hawaiian-influenced tacos (BBQ meats with an Asian slaw), as well as burgers and garlic shrimp.

    "There's very few Hawaiian restaurants in the city, let alone on the West Side," said Chan.

    Chan explained that surprisingly, people have been ordering the traditional Hawaiian dishes, like the loco moco- hamburger patties topped with mushroom gravy, a sunnyside-up egg and macaroni salad. It's tastier than it sounds, he said.